We should rethink our energy use to power economic growth

Mkwiro Wasini Solar Power plant. [File, Standard]

Albert Einstein, one of the most eminent scientific intellects in history, distilled a profound truth into a concise adage: “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it.”

This deceptively simple statement unfolds to reveal a universe where, at its most fundamental level, everything we experience — from the tiniest bits of energy and matter that we can’t even see, to the huge and beautiful arrangement of stars and planets in space, from a quick idea that pops into your head to the big, solid bulk of a mountain is made up of energy.  

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has ushered in unforeseen challenges, particularly emphasizing the critical nature of energy. With the approach of winter across Europe and other regions—a time when many European nations traditionally rely on the flow of affordable natural gas from Russia—energy considerations have surged to the forefront due to the severing of these vital supply lines.

The stark reality of energy’s pivotal role in our world has never been more evident than in this moment of geopolitical strain, illuminating the urgency for sustainable and secure energy strategies.

Coincidentally as the world grapples with the dynamics of the energy landscape the evolving landscape of digital currencies has kicked in and nations are exploring innovative strategies to dovetail cryptocurrency mining into their energy policies.

Cryptocurrency mining, an energy-intensive process, has typically been a subject of concern. However, with strategic planning, it can be woven into national energy frameworks to support economic growth.

Kenya, endowed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, stands poised to lead the way in harmonising energy surplus with innovative usage. By channeling excess electricity into cryptocurrency mining operations, the nation could capitalise on energy that might otherwise remain untapped. Such an initiative serves dual purposes: it utilises the surplus energy efficiently and establishes a consistent demand that enhances grid management strategies.

During a TV appearance, Kenya Power MD Dr Joseph Siror shed light on KPLC’s current operational stance. A noteworthy point from the discussion highlighted the issue of energy imbalance, a situation where the energy expected to be used doesn’t line up with the actual energy used or produced. This unpredictable energy can lead to technical and financial problems for power distributors and their consumers.

Kenya’s peak power demand stands at approximately 3,000MW, and the country’s ability to meet this demand is often bolstered by renewable sources. However, the variability of renewables means that KPLC sometimes resorts to pricier, thermal-generated electricity to prevent load shedding. Conversely, during periods of low demand, the excess electricity gets wasted.

This situation underscores the potential benefits of integrating non-conventional electricity consumers, like cryptocurrency mining operations, into the energy economy. By doing so, Kenya could not only preserve valuable energy resources but also stabilise and optimise its power supply, setting a precedent for sustainable energy management that could be replicated globally.

The key to successful integration lies in balancing the energy equation. By scheduling mining operations during off-peak hours or using energy from sources that cannot be easily stored or transported, countries can optimise their energy output without compromising the needs of their populations.

For example, nations with significant hydropower potential, like Norway and Canada, are using surplus water flow — which cannot be easily throttled or stored — to generate electricity for mining. This harmonisation of energy production and consumption is a cornerstone of modern energy policies. By monetising excess energy through cryptocurrency mining, countries can inject additional funds into their economies. This model not only subsidizes the cost of energy production but also promotes technological advancement.

To ensure this integration serves national interests without causing environmental harm, robust regulatory frameworks are essential. Policies must be in place to guide the sourcing of energy for mining activities, with a strong preference for renewable sources to mitigate carbon footprints.

The writer is a nuclear scientist and a director at the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority